Why is Copernicus relevant to our understanding of Globalization?

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We are constantly bombarded with media reports on globalization in terms of its increasing process and potential effects on our lives. What is meant by this concept and why should we be concerned with its impact? The developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Asia should be interested in it because of the opportunities and threats offered by globalization (also known as globalisation).

The mother of this globalization is Science and the activator is her daughter Technology (both affectionately called science and technology). The most visible manifestations of “globalization” are in the economic and communications spheres. And one of the fathers of Science is our friend Copernicus.

In two sentences his contribution to Science and Globalization is:

  • Copernicus broke open the medieval idea of an enclosed, Earth-centered universe.
  • He set the stage for all of modern astronomy.

And why does this matter?

He lived at a time when people believed Earth lay enclosed within crystal spheres at the center of the universe. Can you picture the leap of imagination required for him to conceive of a sun-centered universe? The publication of Copernicus’ book – De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) – just before his death in 1543, set the stage for all of modern astronomy. Today, people speak of his work as the Copernican Revolution.

Post-data: Copernicus wasn’t the first to conceive of a sun-centered universe. Early Greek philosophers also spoke of it. It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle, however, who proposed that the heavens were literally composed of 55 concentric, crystalline spheres to which the celestial objects were attached. In Aristole’s model, Earth lay at the center of these spheres. Thus Earth lay – fixed and enclosed – until Copernicus published his version of a heliocentric universe.

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A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution and globalization

Cargo-Ship650The geographical hotspots of the world are all related to economic trade and global exchange of political interests. Places such as the Panama and Suez Canals have always been in the Western media. However, from an economic and strategic perspective, the Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world in the 21st Century. The history of this Strait’s geopolitical relevance goes as back as 400 years of history.

For centuries the strait has been the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It has been controlled by the major regional powers and also by the mayor global power during different historical periods. In 2011 hundreds of thousands of containers in more than 60,000 vessels crossed its waters carrying about one-quarter of the world’s traded goods including oil, Chinese manufactures, and Indonesian coffee.

In order to understand which is the geopolitical importance of the Strait of Malacca for the Chinese government we need to overview the current geopolitical dynamics and economic investments in the region.

The following image from NASA clearly depicts what are some of the IMPRESSIVE negative externalities caused by the transport of global goods in the region and opens the door for discussing

  • How can we fix this?
  • Who should fix it?
  • Can it be fixed?
  • Can we reduce the future impacts in the area?
  • What solutions are available?
A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution

Color bar for A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution
acquired 2005 – 2012 download large image (2 MB, JPEG, 1800×1800)

Elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide pop out over certain shipping lanes in observations made by the Aura satellite between 2005-2012. The signal was the strongest over the northeastern Indian Ocean.

Data from the Dutch and Finnish-built Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite show long tracks of elevated nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels along certain shipping routes. NO2, is among a group of highly-reactive oxides of nitrogen, known as NOx, that can lead to the production of fine particles and ozone that damage the human cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Combustion engines, such as those that propel ships and motor vehicles, are a major source of NO2 pollution.

To learn some more on the importance of the Strait of Malacca and the value of this shipping lane you can read the essay I wrote titled “The Strait of Malacca as one of the most important geopolitical regions for the People’s Republic of China. Download (.pdf)

Satellite images of negative externalities caused by Globalization

I always keep track of the images from space taken by NASA.  They usually have impressive “natural hazards” photographed with the highest technology available.  However, sometimes the natural hazards to humanity are not caused by the natural cycles of Earth.  In those cases, it is humans who have created hazards for themselves and people die.  Now, why would we create things that harm us so much? Why would we support and contribute to such terrible things?  A good explanation is the one given by economists with the complex and difficult term negative externalities.

A negative externality is a spillover of an economic transaction that negatively impacts a party that is not directly involved in the transaction. The first party bears no costs for their impact on society while the second party receives no benefits from being impacted. This occurs when marginal social cost is greater than marginal private cost (MSC > MPC).

The case of pollution in China elucidates very well how the market-driven approach to correcting externalities by “internalizing” third party costs and benefits fails to work in a globalized economy.  For example, by requiring a polluter to repair any damage caused. But, in many cases internalizing costs or benefits is not feasible, especially if the true monetary values cannot be determined.  In fact, our technological gadgets and thousands of products imported from China are the cause of the hazardous health conditions in that country.  We as consumers are part of this chain by buying the products. How can we do something?

I would suggest that the best way to participate in a positive way is to continue creating awareness of the failure of the government of China to protect the lives of the Chinese people.  It is at the end of the day the responsibility of that government to protect the life and property of its citizens, not ours.  We as consumers can only morally sanction them and stop consuming their products whenever possible.

This is a good (and very unfortunate) example of how globalization without an objective code of values becomes a zero sum game.  I share with you the information regarding how dangerous has become the air in the surroundings of Beijing and Tianjin,

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Air Quality Suffering in China

acquired January 14, 2013download large image (7 MB, JPEG, 5000×6400)
acquired January 14, 2013download GeoTIFF file (47 MB, TIFF)
Air Quality Suffering in China

acquired January 3, 2013download large image (8 MB, JPEG, 5000×6400)
acquired January 3, 2013download GeoTIFF file (51 MB, TIFF)
acquired January 3 – 14, 2013download Google Earth file (KMZ)

Residents of Beijing and many other cities in China were warned to stay inside in mid-January 2013 as the nation faced one of the worst periods of air quality in recent history. The Chinese government ordered factories to scale back emissions, while hospitals saw spikes of more than 20 to 30 percent in patients complaining of respiratory issues, according to news reports.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired these natural-color images of northeastern China on January 14 (top) and January 3, 2013. The top image shows extensive haze, low clouds, and fog over the region. The brightest areas tend to be clouds or fog, which have a tinge of gray or yellow from the air pollution. Other cloud-free areas have a pall of gray and brown smog that mostly blots out the cities below. In areas where the ground is visible, some of the landscape is covered with lingering snow from storms in recent weeks. (Snow is more prominent in the January 3 image.)

At the time that the January 14 image was taken by satellite, ground-based sensors at the U.S. Embassy in Beijingreported PM2.5 measurements of 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Fine, airborne particulate matter (PM) that is smaller than 2.5 microns (about one thirtieth the width of a human hair) is considered dangerous because it is small enough to enter the passages of the human lungs. Most PM2.5 aerosol particles come from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass (wood fires and agricultural burning). The World Health Organization considers PM2.5to be safe when it is below 25.

Also at the time of the image, the air quality index (AQI) in Beijing was 341. An AQI above 300 is considered hazardous to all humans, not just those with heart or lung ailments. AQI below 50 is considered good. On January 12, the peak of the current air crisis, AQI was 775 the U.S Embassy Beijing Air Quality Monitor—off the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scale—and PM2.5 was 886 micrograms per cubic meter.

  1. Resources

  2. Air Pollution in China: Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  3. China Air Daily. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  4. U.S Embassy Beijing Air Quality Monitor. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  1. References

  2. Associated Press, via Yahoo News (2013, January 14) Beijing warns residents after off-the-charts smog . Accessed January 14, 2013.
  3. NASA (2010, September 22) New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution.Accessed January 14, 2013.
  4. NASA Earth Observatory (2012, March 23) Satellites Map Fine Aerosol Pollution Over China.
  5. The New York Times (2013, January 14) China allows media to report alarming air pollution crisis. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  6. Yahoo News (2013, January 14) China’s air pollution problem slideshow. Accessed January 14, 2013.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response. Caption by Mike Carlowicz.

Two historical references for a discussion on the right to keep and bear arms

Battle  of Courcelette
Battle of Courcelette
Like the observer in the tree in the right foreground, painter Louis Weirter witnessed this Somme battle as a soldier. His painting depicts the chaos and complexity of fighting on the Western Front, and the use of combined arms tactics. The capture of the ruined town of Courcelette, France on 15 September 1916 was a significant Canadian victory. It was also the first time tanks (left foreground) were used in battle.
Painted by Louis Alexander Weirter
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art

One of the most controversial discussions in the last few weeks has been the one around guns, its regulation and controls, its production, on the rights to use guns, on private gun ownership and the arguments of those in favor/against the Right to keep and bear arms in the United States of America.  The right to keep and bear arms in that country has a historical significance rooted in a long standing common law, prior even to the existence of their Constitution.  In England, a similar legal wording can be found in the Bill of Rights 1689 which states “Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defense”.

The historical significance of this argument is long standing and varies from country to country (specially those with a common law system).  The principle behind this topic is the relation of the private ownership (historically contextualized of course) of the “means of force” versus the monopoly of the use of force by government.  Today I have two recommendations on this topic for those of you looking for essays and books to read:

tilly-diagram

The monopoly of the use of force is claimed to be the reason behind why some kings in Europe succeed in wining wars and enriching their countries; and also the reason why others were subjugated and conquered (see the work of War Making and State Making as Organized Crime by Charles Tilly for a complete picture on this topic (online pdf) a Chapter from Bringing the State Back In (1985), edited by Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol).  But also, in a longer historical perspective it has been the monopoly of the use of force by specific authorities which for other authors built/destroyed entire civilizations (see the work of The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002) by Philip Bobbitt).

Have a happy reading!

I don’t want a cheaper and weaker iPhone!

I read today’s article”A Low-Priced iPhone Awaits” in the Wall Street Journal with disappointment.  For some reason, it has become widespread for people to think that “successful products = low price” and that “happy costumers = low price“.

While those affirmations are truth I consider them to be only partially truth.

I want to bring into consideration the fact that it is not only “low-price” products what makes customers happy.  As a owner of stores that sell electronic accessories and as a user of cellphones I can tell you this:

  • No matter how expensive a telephone is, the owner of those products is going to be willing to take care of it without caring much for the original price paid for their phone. So, no matter if the phone is a $500 iPhone or a $50 Samsung S 1st Generation.  Both of the owners would consider paying from as little as $10.00 to as much as $75.00 in extra accessories to PROTECT and personalize their phones.
  • The owners of more expensive phones are always willing to invest a little bit extra to protect their phones.  However, the owners of cheaper phones are also going to be willing to pay a little bit extra to “improve” their phones quality and DURABILITY by adding other electronic accessories or gadgets.

That being said, while companies may continue offering lower-price products the overall quality of these items continues decreasing.  It is IMPRESSIVE the amount of customers I used to received in my store with broken screens in their iPhone’s, Samsung’s, and other Smartphone devices.  Those companies are REALLY making a profit by selling products that can be damaged very easily while forcing costumers to buy new ones.

  • When did design became more important than functionality and durability?
  • Why do big screens are so easily to get broken and they are not made with better products?
  • The best example for this is the iPhone that has also what seems to be some type of glass cover in the back! It was impressive to see many of those covers broken and hearing the stories of sad costumers who want to replace it! The behind glass has no functional use rather than just making the product being overall weaker and less resistant…

While the Wall Street Journal article says that “Apple is working on a lower-end iPhone” the only thing I read is “Apple is working on an EVEN LESS DURABLE, WORSE QUALITY and lower-end iPhone”.  This is unfortunate… specially because I still have many of the old generation “black bean” phones that I used to own 10 years ago that are in perfect shape and resistant very hard falls from my pockets when I was younger.

Lets fight this wave of “lower-end products”!  As consumers we should receive the best we can get for our money! Not the worse we can get for it!

Hayek’s Spontaneous Order Goes Global with Instagram

Instagram user diegotrial

Several months ago when I heard the news about Facebook paying $1 Billion for Instagram I thought ‘the world was going crazy’.  My first impression was to think that the ruling scale of values was mistaken.  That people was giving value to unimportant things while the rest of the world was still trying to manage to survive the day.  I couldn’t understand Why would a company pay such a huge amount of money for a software application for smartphones and iPhone that is only used for procrastination and doesn’t create any value for the world? Last week’s volcanic eruption of Fuego Volcano in Guatemala made me change my mind.

The entrepreneurs behind Instagram,  Kevin Systrom and Michel “Mike” Krieger, created an application that was not only user-friendly but that enabled users to share images from anywhere in the world immediately.  Such an application was created (maybe unintentionally) to become one of the fastest image reservoirs of instant news and global interconnection.  When Facebook bought this photo-sharing app and paid $1 Billion they had not only bought the access to an essential function in millions of smartphones around the world but also connected visually the planet as we had never seen before.  Last week’s event in Guatemala was the first time in my life when I could see through my phone in Denmark high quality images of events that were taking place in real-time more than 5,843 miles.  Indeed, Hayek’s ideas of how an spontaneous order works was going global!

“Spontaneous order is what happens when you leave people alone—when entrepreneurs… see the desires of people… and then provide for them. They respond to market signals, to prices. Prices tell them what’s needed and how urgently and where. And it’s infinitely better and more productive than relying on a handful of elites in some distant bureaucracy.” Leonard Reed

To say that the world is interconnected and interdependent means to say that we are able now able of bypassing normal newsbroadcasters around the world.  No longer will be that easy for anyone to control what  the world would see and what the world wouldn’t see (as critized when News corporations around the world have been used to show a biased reservoir of images and videos during the Gulf War, or in the war in Iraq to mention some examples).  Now, with access to photo-sharing applications such as Instagram the world not only has access to interconnection of real-time events but also has what Hayek explained as “a more efficient allocation of societal resources than any design could achieve.”  Instagram is one more societal tool that enables us to achieve the best of humanity if used for the right purposes.  Because of this reasons the founders of Instagram earned  that billion dollars and the world is wealthier today.

Past and present of the globalization of knowledge

Globalization of knowledge is what I define as the process by which actors conceptualize and interconnect ideas in a global scale.  In the past, the globalization of knowledge required initially an extensive research in books, magazines and other print resources of ideas that could be connected in order to create a larger image of the field being studied.  Later, these ideas were linked and related one to another in the creation of conceptual maps that looked very similar to the nets of spiders in whiteboards.  Later, these ideas were interconnected and global conclusions, hypothesis and thesis arised from the evaluation of information.

However, with the advent of technology these complicated and extenuating research process have been shortened and made much more efficient.  Now, these interconnections and global images of our research are almost done automatically by computers.

The following video has a great example on how the past and present of the Globalization of Knowledge looked like.  I hope you will enjoy watching it as much as I did,